Editor's note: In January 2014 it was announced that this restaurant would close, the flawed concept being quietly put to sleep by the Jamie Oliver machine, with three of the four outlets to be closed immedately. The premises will become a Jackson & Rye outlet, a Richard Caring owned southern US themed restaurant.
Union Jack's is the Jamie Oliver pizza chain that will be coming soon to a high street near you. For reasons that elude me, their marketing folks have tried to relabel what is evidently pizza as “British flats”. This seems to me a nonsensical notion that should have been left on the whiteboard of the brainstorming session, since I do not recall a great history of British restaurants selling “flats” in my youth, or indeed anyone else’s. What they have done is to pick some fairly unusual, bordering on strange, toppings: anyone for smoked pollock, heritage potato, sweet leek and Welsh cockle pizza, sorry “flat”? In addition to the pizzas there are some moderately priced starters and desserts with a more British, or at least retro British, theme. This particular branch has taken over the French Kitchen premises, and is larger than it may appear from the street. They can fit in 50 covers at street level, but a further 100 upstairs. It has wood floor, exposed brick walls, lamps hanging at a sensible height from the ceiling and a casual fee to the place.
I began with “by catch” fish fingers and tartare sauce (£5). The batter was crisp enough but the fish (actually ling, pollock and whitebait) was utterly tasteless, and lacked seasoning. Tartare sauce on the side was made rather than bought, used rapeseed oil but was insufficiently piquant, lacking enough white wine vinegar in my view (8/20). I tried the “chilli freak” pizza (£9.50), with six different chillies (which didn’t obviously fit with the British ingredient theme) and some salad garnish. The pizza was decent, the base thin but too firm, though there was plenty of spicy kick from the hot chilli (10/20).
Black Forest gateau (£5) is not made on the premises but shipped in, apparently daily, from a central location. It arrived on the plate listing at a jaunty angle, and I found it deeply unpleasant. It tasted to me of cheap chocolate and poor quality cherries; I had two bites and gave up (4/20). The bill came to £14.50 before service – the gateau was not charged for. Service was pleasant if a little forcibly cheery: when a waitress says “great choice” the cynic in me is always tempted to ask what would be a really bad choice. Union Jack's functions tolerably as a pizzeria (“flatteria”?) and if you stick to that and find a topping that you like then I suppose you could do worse (much worse in the case of Fire and Stone). However this is a short walk from Franco Manca, which serves superb pizzas at a much lower price, so I won’t be darkening its door again.